Comox Valley author wins international literary award

Cynthia Lebrun with her mother-in-law, Veronika Tomaszewski. Photo suppliedCynthia Lebrun with her mother-in-law, Veronika Tomaszewski. Photo supplied
Cynthia Lebrun is seen here working on her manuscript. Photo suppliedCynthia Lebrun is seen here working on her manuscript. Photo supplied
Veronika Tomaszewski, circa 1945. Photo submittedVeronika Tomaszewski, circa 1945. Photo submitted

Courtenay author Cynthia Lebrun has just received considerable recognition for her historical fiction manuscript about Ukraine.

The yet-to-be-published book, titled Black Sunflowers, recounts the life of Lebrun’s mother-in-law, Veronika Tomaszewski, during her formative years growing up in Ukraine during the Second World War.

“She was born in 1922 and this book is about Ukraine’s oppression under the Soviets,” said Lebrun. “This book takes place from the time she was six years old until she was 19. There are two main characters – her and her father.”

The manuscript was selected as one of three winners of the Peterson Literary Fund Emerging Writers Grant. The other two winners were authors in Finland and Ukraine.

The Emerging Writers Grant is designed for new writers who have not yet been published in book form. Grants are given to writers of both works of fiction and non-fiction, written in English or Ukrainian, whose subject matter promotes a better understanding of the Ukrainian experience or is deemed relevant to the global Ukrainian community.

Lebrun’s book has been 20 years in the making.

“My research included academic papers, academic books – many sources – including months and years of tape-recorded interviews with her (Lebrun’s mother-in-law),” said Lebrun.

The book served a double purpose.

“It was a tribute to her, as well as a tribute to the millions of Ukrainians who died under Stalin and their stories aren’t told. They were sent to the Gulags, they were executed, they were starved to death…”

While the book took 20 years to complete – it is just now going through the final editing process – the topic has been a lifelong interest to Lebrun.

“In high school, I was very interested in World War II – I read everything I could find,” she said. “Then I married my husband, and when I met her I was totally fascinated by the little bits and pieces of her story.”

The monetary value of the award was $8,000, and Lebrun expects the clout the Peterson Literary Fund Emerging Writers Grant carries to play a role in her ability to have the book published.

“That’s what I have been told – that this will really alert (publishers) that maybe this is something,” said Lebrun.

It was Lebrun’s writing mentor – historical fiction author Marsha Skrypuch – who suggested she enter the contest.

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